The Science Behind Deep Conditioning

Got questions on deep conditioning? Get all the answers you need in the in-depth science-based article below!

My Beautiful #RedCarpetCurlsRoyalty,

Deep conditioning is a MUST in the wavy/curly/coily world. Let’s just say if your hair has texture it will need more moisture!

Today’s article is going to breakdown the real importance of deep conditioning, including the science behind why you should never skip your deep conditioning time every single week.

So let’s just jump into this massive subject by answering the most common questions.

 

What is deep conditioning?

Deep conditioning is the act of applying a special treatment to the hair to improve the overall health of your hair.  Deep conditioners contain ingredients that work to penetrate the hair strands on a much deeper level than regular rinse-out or leave-in conditioners. This more substantial treatment is meant to be left on anywhere from 10-30 minutes. The conditioner (depending on the specific ingredients) is formulated to provide moisture to the hair to slowly revive and nourish dry, brittle, and damaged hair for healthy, durable, and shiny curls with consistent use.

Why do we need to deep condition weekly?

Naturally, textured hair is far drier than straight hair. The reason for this is that the texture of our hair creates waves, curls, coily, basically a pattern that slows the sebum from our scalps to reach out hair.

Our scalp produces natural oils that moisturize and protect the scalp and hair from not only bacteria and other potential threats but those oils, also known as Sebum, are meant to glide down the hair strands to moisturize them slowly.

Straight hair never has a problem with the sebum moisturizing the hair because there are no ridges or patterns in the hair to slow the sebum down from gliding all the way down to the ends, effectively moisturizing the hair and protecting it from breakage and split ends.

Whereas with textured hair, slowly the movement of the sebum makes it’s way down the hair strands in an attempt to make it to the driest part of our hair, the ends. Since our texture slows down the movement of the sebum, there isn’t enough time for the sebum to make its way down the hair. This results in dry and brittle hair, in extreme cases, split ends and breakage.

That is the natural state of textured hair. It’s dry because the natural oils can’t make it’s way down. Now when you introduce damaging habits into your routine like straightening the hair, bleaching it, using curling irons, etc. this damages the hair even more. Making it weak and unable to take in as much moisture as it really needs.

This is where deep conditioning 1-2x a week comes in. Deep conditioners are intensive conditioners formulated to repair and revive dry, brittle, and damaged hair. Deep conditioning weekly helps improve the overall health and appearance of your hair.

What is the difference between a deep conditioner and a regular rinse-out conditioner?

Deep conditioners are considered intensive conditioners because they are meant to be left on for 10-30 minutes. Whereas rinse out conditioners are considered instant conditioners because they are left on for only 3-5 minutes.

Rinse-out Conditioners, A.K.A.  Instant Conditioners, are formulated for daily use. They are to be left on for a short period. Conditioners are meant to reduce static in the hair, reducing frizz, detangle the hair, and improve combability. According to an article in the International Journal of Trichology entitled Hair Cosmetics: An Overview, “Conditioners act by neutralizing the negative electrical charge of the hair fiber by adding positive charges and by lubricating the cuticle that reduces fiber hydrophilicity. They contain anti-static and lubricating substances that are divided into five main groups: Polymers, oils, waxes, hydrolyzed amino acids, and cationic molecules.”

Essentially it is the conditioners job to lay reduce the negative charge of the hair but depositing a thin film of positive molecules from the conditioner. This helps smooth the cuticle down, which reduces frizz and fly-aways. Rinse-out conditioners penetrate to the cuticle focusing on laying it down to seal it, that will reveal shiny frizz-free hair.

Deep Conditioners are formulated to be intensive conditioners. They work to penetrate deeper than the cuticle layer, deep conditioner penetrates all the way down to the Cortex of the hair (which is the innermost layer of the hair responsible for strength in the hair).

Deep conditioners provide the same benefits of instant conditioners; the most significant difference is the level in which they work. Deep conditioners contain ingredients with lower molecular weight making it easier to penetrate the deepest layers of the hair to really moisturize and repair from within the strands.

The shiny frizz-free results from a deep conditioner last longer than that of the instant conditioners. Often times, you will see deep conditioners contain penetrating ingredients like amino acids, oils, fatty acids, etc., that is because they are small enough to penetrate past the hair cuticle.

Essentially here’s the difference between Instant and Intense Conditioners:

  • Deep Conditioners= penetrate past the cuticle and are left on for more extended periods, results last longer
  • Rinse Out Conditioners = daily use, penetrate to the cuticle to improve manageability and appearance, results don’t last long

What is the difference between Deep Conditioner and Hair Mask?

As you continue your Curly Girl Method journey, you will find marketing is a big reason for the confusion of products on the market.

It’s not just shampoo, conditioners, and gel anymore, there’s a whole new world of products out there, souffles, custards, and milk, oh my!

Deep conditioners and Masks are essentially the same things. They both are intensive conditioners that work to soften the hair. The biggest difference you will find is that masks vary by brand. 

Masks most of the time are formulated to address specific problems like dry, brittle hair, or color-treated hair.

Most of the time deep conditioners will work to soften the hair to improve it’s overall appearance, whereas a hair mask will work to strengthen the hair as well because we all know protein-related ingredients like amino acids provide moisture as well as strengthening.

Can you deep condition on dry hair?

Ideally, everyone should be deep conditioning on freshly cleansed hair, meaning you need to shampoo or co-wash before you deep condition.

This doesn’t mean you can’t just apply the deep conditioner to dry hair. You absolutely can; hair naturally carries a negative charge and conditioner carries a positive charge. You know the old saying, opposites attract! So, technically, the treatment can work better on dry hair. The only reason I advise against this is because build-up can prevent the deep conditioner from taking full effect.

This is why shampooing is so important, remove all build-up of products, sebum, dirt, etc. Then apply the deep conditioner to your freshly cleansed hair for it to take full effect and impart all the benefits promised on the bottle.

How and why should I add heat to my deep conditioning treatments?

As part of the Curly Girl Method, you hear me constantly tell you do not apply heat to your hair. There’s a difference. No DIRECT heat to hair such as straightening irons or curling irons.

Indirect heating tools such as a hair steamer, deep conditioning cap, or dryer can help heat up the treatment which helps penetrate the hair faster and intensify the benefits.

I am a huge fan of the Q-redew hair steamer. This helps me heat up my conditioner while it is in the hair and the steam works to lift the cuticle of the hair to allow the treatment to penetrate deeply and effectively.

What are some last tips for Deep Conditioning?

  • Try adding 1-2 teaspoons of Braggs Liquid Amino Acids to your deep conditioner for a boost of moisture and shine
  • Essential oils like Rosemary, Sage, Clary Sage, Cedarwood, Geranium, etc are great for boosting hair growth and thickening
  • Honey (especially raw or manuka honey) is a great humectant and adds more moisture and shine to your hair.
  • Never deep condition more than 30 minutes after hair no longer takes any added benefit after 30 minutes
  • Do not ever deep condition overnight as this will lead to Hygral Fatigue (over moisturization of hair).
  •  Do not apply conditioner to scalp or roots, always focus conditioner a quarter inch away from the scalp
  • Focus deep conditioner on the ends of hair since it is the most vulnerable to breakage.
  •  Look for more natural deep conditioners than the normal big box store options like shea moisture. Look into small al natural brands like Carmella Marie, Alodia Haircare, Inahsi Naturals, etc.

 

Works Cited:

Draelos, Zoe D. “Essentials of Hair Care often Neglected: Hair Cleansing.” International journal of trichology vol. 2,1 (2010): 24-9. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.66909

Gavazzoni Dias, Maria Fernanda Reis. “Hair cosmetics: an overview.” International journal of trichology vol. 7,1 (2015): 2-15. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.153450

Adrienne

Adrienne

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